Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More on New Home Sales

by Bill McBride on 3/26/2008 11:31:00 AM

There is actually some good news in the Census Bureau's New Home sales report this morning. But first a few more ugly graphs (see February New Home sales for earlier graphs).

New Home Sales and Recessions Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions for the last 45 years. New Home sales were falling prior to every recession, with the exception of the business investment led recession of 2001.

It appears the U.S. economy is now in recession - possibly starting in December - as shown on graph.

This is what we call Cliff Diving!

New Home Sales Monthly Not Seasonally Adjusted
The second graph shows monthly new home sales (NSA - Not Seasonally Adjusted).

Notice the Red columns in January and February 2008. This is the lowest sales for February since the recession of '91.

As the graph indicates, the spring selling season has started - and started poorly. Toll Brothers CEO said last month:

“The selling season, which we believe starts in mid-January, has been weak ..."
And one more long term graph - this one for New Home Months of Supply.

New Home Months of Supply and Recessions
"Months of supply" is at the highest level since 1981. Note that this doesn't include cancellations, but that was true for the earlier periods too.

The all time high for Months of Supply was 11.6 months in April 1980.

Once again, the current recession is "probable" and hasn't been declared by NBER.

So what is the good news?

There are actually two pieces of good news in the report. First, inventory levels (even accounting for cancellations) are clearly falling. This is a small first step in correcting the huge overhang in new home inventory.

Note: The inventory (and sales) reported by the Census Bureau doesn't account for cancellations, and the Census Bureau doesn't include many condos (especially high rise condos).

The second piece of good news is revisions. During periods of rapidly declining sales, the Census Bureau routinely overestimates sales in the initial report - and then revises down sales over the next few months. In this report, sales were revised up slightly for November (from 630K to 631K), December (605K to 611K) and January (588K to 601K). This is actually a positive sign that New Home sales might be nearing a bottom. However, a quick rebound in sales is unlikely with the huge overhang of both new and existing homes for sale.